New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival “Congo Square” Posters
Annual jazz fest posters are iconic components of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The history of the posters began in the 1970s and by the 1980s, they had become established collectibles and sort after opportunities for visual artists.
Congo Square Jazz Fest posters began 1993 when Bright Moments, a Black-owned New Orleans advertising and graphic design agency, received the contract to produce that year’s festival posters. The organization commissioned visual artist John Scott to produce the festival’s poster. It inaugurated the Congo Square poster and commissioned Douglas Redd to produce the first one.
However, that was not the beginning of African American involvement with creating festival posters. Visual artist Bruce Brice produced a hand-drawn, pen and ink poster for the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which took place in Congo Square in 1970.
Richard Thomas in 1989 and Louis Mouton Johnson 1990 were the first two African American artists commissioned to produce festival posters. In 1991, John Scott produced a Congo Square poster with impassioned dancers moving in a circular formation evoking dancers at the 19th Century Sunday gatherings, but it was not recognized as an official poster. Although it was likely the first poster to bear the name “Congo Square,” it was not the first African-themed festival poster.
An African-themed stage, marketplace and festival poster that bore the name “Koindu” preceded Scott’s poster as well as the official Congo Square jazz fest poster, stage and pavilion. The Koindu era began in the 1970s through the advocacy of African American activists, who demanded more benefits for the African American community as well as leadership and participation in every aspect of the festival. In the 1980s, the name transitioned from Koindu to Congo Square.
Marcus Akinlana is a visual artist, traditional African Sango priest, martial arts instructor and professional drummer. He and his wife Fatu Akinlana co-own two companies, Positive Creations Fine Arts and WON Mural Society, both founded in the 1980s. He also co-founded Ile Eko Asa Yoruba Ni New Orleans, a study institute for traditional African culture and spirituality. Along with other community work, Akinlana designed the official t-shirt of the Congo Square Preservation Society and previously served on the board.
Chester Allen is an award-winning, nationally known sterling silver jewelry artist. With four decades of professional experience, his extensive line of work includes pieces embellished with Adinkra symbols from Africa, those inspired by his background in music, and those influenced by sacred geometry. His portfolio ranges from casual, every day to fine, special event pieces. You can find his Etsy shop here.
Visual artist, muralist, arts educator, children’s book author and illustrator, and public speaker Journey Allen received her B.A. Degree in Fine Arts from Texas Southern University. One of her recent murals, “The Crown Act” features four African American females proudly wearing their natural and protective styles. It was unveiled in 2022 during the Essence Festival and featured by WGNO local news as well as other outlets. Allen’s dedicated community outreach focuses on art programs for youth.
New Orleans-based photographer Gason Ayisyin was born in Haiti and immigrated to South Florida as a young child, where his family sustained a rather traditional Haitian lifestyle. His interest and self-study of photography began in high school and has now developed into a profession. Since moving to New Orleans in 2001, his work has been exhibited in local galleries and featured in local newspapers. Ayisyin is known for his documentary photographs of annual MAAFA commemorations, which begin each year in Congo Square. He also exhibits his work and curates MAAFA exhibitions that are held at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center.
Native New Orleanian and a graduate of Dillard University Malik Bartholomew serves the community as a historian, photographer, researcher, tour guide, master storyteller, radio co-host, community griot, cultural curator, and owner of Know NOLA Tours. As a photographer, he documents the history of organizations of which he is a member. He is the official photographer and board member of PASS IT ON Spoken Word and Art Collective. Bartholomew is also a board member of the Congo Square Preservation Society, where he works to preserve and share the history of Congo Square and its impact on the history, heritage and culture of New Orleans.
Born and reared in New Orleans, Ron Bechet holds a B.A. degree in Fine Arts from the University of New Orleans, and an M.F.A. in Painting and Drawing from the Yale School of Art, Yale University. He is professor of art at Xavier University and continues a rigorous painting practice while exhibiting his work nationally and internationally. As an extremely active member of the New Orleans cultural community, Bechet serves on numerous boards including the Studio in the Woods, Plessy & Ferguson Foundation, and Joan Mitchell Foundation, as well as the first director of Xavier Art Department’s Community Arts Partnership Program.
Gus Bennett has more than four decades of professional photography set in New Orleans. His work has appeared on the covers of Essence, Ebony, Jet, UPSCALE, and TRIBE magazines as well as on the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority Bus line. His statement, “My photography is about community and collaborations,” bears witness through his “New Orleans People Project”, which he began in 2013. It now includes more than 3,000 portraits of New Orleanians.
Born and reared in New Orleans, Willie Birchcompleted his BA at Southern University in New Orleans and received an MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland. He works in a variety of mediums including drawing, painting, and sculpture and has spent much of his career documenting the African-American culture of his native New Orleans. The cover of his book, Celebrating Freedom: The Art of Willie Birch, features his depiction of a scene in Congo Square. Depictions of other scenes in Congo Square also appear in this book. Birch’s work has been exhibited across the US and appears in public and well as private collections nation-wide.
Native New Orleanian Bruce Brice designed the first New Orleans Jazz Fest poster in 1970, when the festival took place in Congo Square. He is said to have shown at every jazz festival for the following 40 years. With much attention to fine details, people and their social interactions, Brice cleverly captured New Orleans celebrations including festivals, Mardi Gras Indians and second line parades for over four decades.
Native New Orleanian “Cfreedom” is a visual and performing artist whose career began with the influence of Carol Bebelle, Douglas Redd, and the Ashé Cultural Arts Center. Much of her work documents positive Black New Orleans culture, which inspired her two organizations: The Essence of N.O.W., celebrating New Orleans women, and WCWM: Who’s Coming with Me, a unity movement supporting Black artists, businesses and youth. Now, as a filmmaker, she is director/photographer of the award-winning film “Cuttin’ Cane,” which is part of a series of documentaries about Africans on the Mississippi River.
A native of New Orleans, Marcus Brown is a sculptor, painter, inventor, musician, and educator. Brown is on staff at NOOCCA, where he once attended. He holds a MEd from Portland State University and BFA from Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) in Missouri. His work is expansive and includes national and international exhibits and performances, for which he has received awards and other recognitions. One of his recent projects, “augmented reality, slavery trails” sculptures, virtually marked areas where enslaved people were held and sold in New Orleans and other parts of the country.
Born and reared in New Orleans with a love for the arts and the motivation to largely teach himself, Courtney “Co” Buckley, known as “Creaux,” has emerged as a multidisciplinary visual artist. He is a painter, tattoo artist, graffiti artist, music producer, muralist, and more. He is known mostly for his vibrant, culture-based scenes and images one can only find in the Crescent City. He is also known for his art show entitled “Dear New Orleans,” which aimed to make the New Orleans community feel united and proud of its shared culture as well as of each other individually.
Calhoun and McCormick, both natives of the New Orleans Ninth Ward, are an award-winning and internationally recognized husband and wife team. These veteran photographers focus on documenting African American experiences in New Orleans and the surrounding Louisiana parishes. Representing “the soul of the city,” their photographs capture every aspect of life from celebrations, rituals, and cultural histories to dock workers, sugar cane workers, and incarcerated people.
Born and reared in New Orleans, Jeffrey Cook studied painting, drawing, and sculpture with John T. Scott and Martin Payton at Xavier University from 1979-1983. After leaving Xavier, Cook became a professional dancer and traveled the world. Upon returning to New Orleans, he established a studio in Central City and began to tell the tale of the neighborhood’s rise and fall with its debris and forgotten artifacts. Cook became noted for his found-object sculptures and his darkly patinad and wrapped artwork that reflected traditional West African objects of ritual.
Born in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, Keith Duncan received a BFA from Louisiana State University, and an MFA from Hunter College (CUNY) New York, NY. He now resides in New Orleans. Often filled with satire, his visual storytelling is densely packed with bold, colorful and energetic images that evoke the culture of Black New Orleans. As he states,” This is my new focus, local sub-cultures, my new environment, my new aesthetics.”
Native New Orleanian Ted Ellis grew up immersed in the rich African-based culture and artistic exuberance of the city – all of which inspired and influenced his work. He received his B.S. in Chemistry from Dillard University and his M.A. in Museum Studies from Southern University at New Orleans. During his professional career of over 30 years, his work has been exhibited nationally and internationally; commissioned by from numerous national companies; and featured on television programs, in Upscale, Southern Living, and Newsweek magazines, on CDs and book covers, and in newspapers across the country. Ellis serves as the first director of the Southern University at New Orleans Museum of Art (SUNOMA).
Native New Orleanian Rashida Ferdinand studied ceramic sculpture at Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts (MFA) and Howard University College of Fine Arts (BFA). She has exhibited her work in national as well as international galleries. Her public sculpture, “Mandala,” commissioned by the Arts Council of New Orleans in partnership with the Joan Mitchell Foundation, is permanently installed on Claiborne Avenue and Caffin Street in the Lower 9th Ward. Ferdinand is the founder and director of Sankofa Community Development Corporation, which includes a monthly hub for local farmers, chefs, craftspeople and vendors.
New Orleans legendary jewelry artist “Dr. Foots” began creating art and jewelry as a child. He is one of the pioneer vendors of N.O. Jazz and Heritage and Essence festivals as well as events in Congo Square. His custom-made pieces are cultural statements as well as collectibles. Working in silver, brass, copper, and gold, Foots incorporates amber and other semiprecious stones and African symbols in his designs.
New Orleans native L. Kasimu Harris earned a BBA in Entrepreneurship from Middle Tennessee State University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Mississippi. With extensive published writing as well as photography, Harris was named Documentary Photographer of the Year by Louisiana Endowment of the Humanities in 2022. His work appears in numerous local and national collections, and his clients include: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Vox, HuffPost, Gravy, ESPN’s The Undefeated, and The Open Society Foundations.
Documentary photographer Freddye Hill, Ph.D. has captured New Orleans social aid and pleasure clubs as well as Black masking Indians for over two decades. She captures all aspects of club activity including parades, community service projects, and family and community relationships. Hill contributed photographs to the Historic New Orleans Collection to accompany online narratives for club members and created a memorial slideshow for recently deceased members during the “Dancing in the Streets” exhibition.
New Orleans native and visual artist Charlie Johnson is also a veteran educator whose career includes the Orleans Parish public schools and Southern University at New Orleans. He now works full-time as a practicing artist and arts advocate/organizer. After Hurricane Katrina, he and his wife, Louise Mouton Johnson, published Didn’t Wash Us Away: Transformative Stories of Post Katrina Cultural Resilience. He and his wife also initiated and led the local chapter of NCA (National Conference of Artists), which provides an annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Art Exhibition. The juried art show opens during Martin Luther King Holiday and features the talent of artists nation-wide.
Native New Orleanian Louise Mouton Johnson is a widely acclaimed visual artist and veteran arts educator. She received a B.F.A. from Xavier University and an M.F.A. in printmaking from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. She taught visual arts in the New Orleans Public Schools system for 33 years, including the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Her prints, drawings, and quilts are included in the collections of the City of New Orleans through commissions from the Arts Council of New Orleans, Ashé Cultural Arts Center, the Amistad Research Center, and other private collections. Her work also appears on album and book covers by New Orleans creatives. Johnson designed the official 1990 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Poster. She and her husband, Charlie Johnson, initiated and lead the local chapter of NCA (National Conference of Artists).
New Orleans native Sheleen Jones, a professional artist and sculpture, received a B.F.A. from Xavier University and an M.F.A. from Florida State University. Her career as an educator includes the New Orleans public schools and currently Xavier University. She is known for her sculptures of prominent African Americans including as A.P. Tureaud, Avery Alexander, Big Chief Tootie Montana, which grace the city of New Orleans. Others include the “The Healing Tree,” at the New Orleans East Hospital in recognition of Hurricane Katrina survivors.
Cleveland, Ohio native MaPó Kinnord received her B.F.A. from Massachusetts College of Art and her M.F.A. from Ohio State University. She taught in North Carolina, Maine, Massachusetts and California before teaching in the New Orleans public school and now Xavier University, where she is an associate professor of art. Kinnord’s work is influence by her research and studies in Ghana, where she produced video documentation of traditional practices. She is known for her ceramic sculptural forms that are inspired by architecture and that explore both exteriors and interiors through clay and surface treatment.
Louisiana native Lavalais is a master jewelry maker who is known for his handcrafted, one-of-a-kind accessories that he makes available at festivals and special events across the country like Essence, Jazz Fest, and events in Congo Square. His company, Bamboozle, is the home of the world-famous, original Earspear® by Lavalais. He is also the founder and operator of Black Artists Marketplace, an online offering of hand-made art and apparel by Black and Brown creators, which he started during the pandemic to help small businesses. Among his many designs in a four-sided bracelet made of bamboo and cowie shells that he named “Congo Square.”
Born in New Orleans and reared in the 7th Ward, Girard Mouton, III was introduced to photography by his father, who documented the family in still photos, film and video as a hobby. Mouton made photography his career. With a degree in photo lab management from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, he worked in photo labs and in 1987 began working at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival as a staff photographer. At one time, he was the only official photographer on staff and during the pre-digital era may have shot as many as 800 photos during a festival.
Peter Nakhid is a photographer, videographer and griot. He is known for working with community-based organizations such as Ubuntu Village NOLA and Ashé Cultural Arts Center. Nakhid routinely documents the annual MAAFA commemorations, sponsored by Ashé, that are held in Congo Square as well as many of the Sunday gatherings held there. His company, Captured Moments, provides full professional photography and video services.
After graduating from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), Odums worked as a filmmaker, creating content through 2-Cent Entertainment LLC, which he founded in 2005, and directing music videos for hip hop artists. His focus on New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina brought national recognition such as an NAACP Image Award. From film to murals to installations and “Studio Be,” named one of the 50 best things to do in the world by Time-Out global travel blog, Odums’ work encapsulates the political passion of young Black activists. He collaborates with national companies such as Nike and Cadillac and lectures to audiences across the country including Princeton and Harvard.
Native New Orleanian Terrance Osborne attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOOCA) and later earned a degree in Fine Arts from Xavier University. After several years of teaching, which was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, he and his wife, Stephanie, launched their full-time business. Osborne’s colorful and striking depictions of New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina as well as other iconic themes quickly drew national and international attention. Osborne has produced multiple official N. O. Jazz Festival Posters, which further expands his world-wide exposure and audience.
New Orleans native Martin Payton received his B.F.A. from Xavier University and his M.F.A. from Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. His teaching positions included associate professor of Art History at Southern University and professor at Xavier University. Payton is well known for his public sculptures throughout New Orleans including Spirit House, which was a collaboration with his mentor John T. Scott. Many of his sculptures are created by using recycled industrial steel parts.
Also known as Cely, Cecelia Pedescleaux, is an African-American quilter of traditional and art quilts inspired by past and current event from African-American history including the Underground Railroad and African traditions and symbolisms. She is storyteller at heart. Pedescleaux has exhibited her quilts in shows, museums and galleries locally, nationally and internationally. Her 2013-14, one-person show at the Le Musée de Free People of Color in New Orleans included 75 of her quilts.
Native New Orleanian Jamar Pierre began his art career by painting banners for the Tambourine and Fan Organization, which marked the Mardi Gras Indian Super Sunday march on North Claiborne Avenue. That project led to work with the Ashé Cultural Arts Center and New Orleans Recreation Development Commission. Pierre now channels his talent into paintings, community murals and commissioned works. A major undertaking is his mural of historic Louisiana scenes along Tchoupitoulas Street across from the Walmart store. The mural may eventually span one mile of the flood wall.
Native New Orleanian Steven Prince received his B.A. from Xavier University, where he studied with John Scott. He received his M.F.A. from Michigan State University and was an assistant professor of Art at Hampton University. Among his work in the New Orleans community, Prince designed the logo for the historical marker to the transatlantic slave trade, located on the Mississippi riverfront known as the Moonwalk. The same logo appears on the historical marker to the slave trade that is located as the Algiers Courthouse, on the Westbank of New Orleans.
Native New Orleanian Rontherin Ratliff is a conceptual artist, who creates mixed media assemblages, art installations and sculptures. His pieces directly respond to everyday experiences and the surrounding environment. He has received numerous recognitions and exhibits his work in key galleries across the city and county. Largely self-taught, Ratliff’s artistic training was fostered through the nationally renowned New Orleans’ arts organization YA/YA, where he serves as the Creative Director.
A native of Baton Rouge and co-founder of Ashé Cultural Arts Center, visual artist Douglas Redd was the original designer of the Congo Square area of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival including the popular gates to Congo Square. He also created the first official Congo Square jazz fest poster.
Native New Orleanian Asante Salaam holds a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As a multidisciplinary artist, her work lives in numerous private collections and has been displayed in group and solo exhibitions in San Diego and New Orleans. She previously served as the outreach manager and interim director of the New Orleans Mayor’s Office of Cultural Economy and is now the inaugural director of The Helis Foundation John Scott Center at the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH).
New Orleanian and son of master artist and professor John T. Scott, Ayo was immersed in the New Orleans art community at a very young age. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Xavier University and studied graduate work at the Institute of Design in Chicago. Scott’s multidisciplinary work includes a clothing line and design company, book illustrations, book cover designs, portraits, murals across the city, teaching art in local schools, and multimedia compositions. After his father’s transition, he founded “PASS IT ON Spoken Word and Art Collective,” which promotes young talent through literary, music, dance, theatrical and visual arts expressions.
John T. Scott, MacArthur Fellowship Recipient, used the concept of “circle dance” in multiple ways – all of which reflected the dance circles of enslaved Africans in Congo Square. He used the term to refer to New Orleans itself – which he noted is a place that conjures up movement – be it dancing, parading or performing of some sort. His landmark sculpture Ocean Song (1990) as well as his Circle Dance series (2001) are all kinetic sculptures with moving parts that interact with the environment.
The rings at the top of Ocean Song, which stands 16-feet-high, represent the circle dances at Congo Square. The sculpture stands in Woldenberg Park along levee of the Mississippi River in the area where enslaved Africans disembarked in the Louisiana or were brought from the Westbank location en route to the auction block.
Finally, “Circle Dance: The Art of John Scott,” was the name his retrospective exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art hosted in 2005, which covered his nearly fifty-years of making art. The book, Circle Dance, by Richard Powell accompanied the retrospective.
The Spirit House, located at DeSaix Circle at the intersection of St. Bernard and Gentilly Boulevards, is a landmark sculpture that represents the history and culture of Africans and African Americans in New Orleans. The creators, visual artists John T. Scott and Martin Payton, dedicated the sculpture to black people, enslaved and free, whose labor built New Orleans. Included among them are those who gathered at Congo Square.
A native of Brooklyn, NY and now based in New Orleans, SHAKOR is a sought-after portrait artist and muralist in the city and across the nation. Recognizing his talent at a young age, he attended a High School of Art and Design, Boston University for college, Rhode Island School of Design, and The Cooper Union. To his credit are numerous commissioned portraits, commercial art renderings, national gallery exhibitions, and more than ten city-funded public art murals. Shakor owns and operates Gallery Cayenne, which features fine art with the spice of New Orleans.
New Orleans native Jessica Strahan is a painter and muralist whose work perpetuates the African influence on New Orleans culture. Her work often juxtaposes landscapes, architecture, culinary traditions, facial features and hair styles from New Orleans with ethnic features from the motherland. Her work is exhibited and collected nationally and her murals grace neighborhoods across the city. Strahan was commissioned by NOLA.com /The Times Picayune to create several portraits for its New Orleans tricentennial tribute.
Native New Orleanian “Polo Silk” has photographed Black New Orleans for more than three decades. His unique body of work blends elements of portraiture, fashion, performance, and street photography. He creatively mobilized the traditional portrait studio, taking it to the streets and clubs of New Orleans and transforming it into an adaptable, on-the-spot, instant-photo method of documenting New Orleans culture. The exhibition of his work, “Picture Man: Portraits by Polo Silk,” at New Orleans Museum of Art illustrates his role important role in the history of New Orleans photography.
A native of Bogalusa, Louisiana, Richard C. Thomas is an internationally-acclaimed visual artist, muralist, educator and mentor. His signature styles of New Orleans-inspired art, which he refers to as “visual jazz,” reflect the history and culture of Louisiana. Thomas designed the 20th Anniversary New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Poster in 1989 that featured Fats Domino.
J. R. Thomason owns and operates Video/Photography by J.R., a full-service video and photography company with over 30 years of media experience for customers both large and small. His clientele includes the Congo Square Preservation Society, Amistad Research Center, Jazz and Heritage Festival, Congo Square Connection.org, the City of New Orleans, Essence Festival, Toyota and Walmart as well as commercial clients. Thomason also provided the photography for the books: Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans and Come Sunday: A Young Reader’s History of Congo Square, both written by Freddi Williams Evans.
Photographer and cultural documentarian Eric Waters has served the New Orleans community for more than 40 years. He decided early in his career to devote his efforts to the street culture of New Orleans and is now known for capturing the vibrant and energetic scenes of second line parades and Mardi Gras Indians. In 2017, he received the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Award for Documentary Photographer. Waters co-edited Freedom’s Dance: Social, Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans, and is working on another collaboration: SEEING BLACK: Black Photography in New Orleans 1840 & Beyond.
Artist Bruce Brice, New Orleans Jazz Fest’s first poster designer, dies at 72
Beauchamp-Byrd, Mora. “Spirit House: John Scott’s Iconographic Portraits of New Orleans”
Circle Dance: The Art of John T. Scott
Evans, Freddi Williams & Anna Rita Scott. Passing it On: The Art of John T. Scott. New Orleans: The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2022.
Powell, Richard J. Circle Dance: The Art of John T. Scott. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
Spirit House Sculpture